Kendrick La-friggin-mar. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve felt so enthusiastic about an artist who wasn’t on the scene in the 90’s. I don’t think this guy has one song that I dislike, which is quite rare, especially with today’s proliferation of dispensable one hit wonders.
“Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)” is a K.dot track that will never get old for me. Off of his mixtape (O)verly (D)edicated, which dropped in Q4 last year, this song is about gossip and how it keeps us distracted from the bigger picture.
A professor for one of my favourite classes in university once lectured about how gossip is a tool of oppression, because it is designed to keep people distracted from the corrupt and oppressive practices of the “powers that be”. This is the very message of Kendrick’s song; but it is broken down so that the people who need to hear this truth can digest it. Simple, but brilliant. Let’s take a look at these lyrics:
“I’m tryna learn something new
I’m tryna find myself
I’m searching deep for Kendrick Lamar
I read about Napolean Hill and try to know God
They say he’s the key to my blessings
And if I speak the good into existence that instance my dreams will unlock
Money flow like water
I’ll just wait at the dock
And by the way, I’ma start
Finding more light to shed like a small garage in your backyard”
From the beginning, we see that the narrator is on a quest for knowledge and higher understanding. He talks about Napolean Hill, an author who is best known for his book Think and Grow Rich. In this book, Hill lays down a road map of how to turn your desires into actions, and stresses the importance of having clear goals in your mind before you can begin achieving. We also see some cute similes here that stray away from today’s typical style of dropping the “like” or “as”.
“I’m back chillin with a friend of mine
She’s mighty fine but I notice her heart resides next to bitterness”
Most gossips are unhappy people. They wrap themselves up in the affairs of others to keep themselves distracted from their own problems or to boost their self esteem. The narrator’s friend is beautiful, but her heart is ugly because it’s preoccupied with other people’s misery, as we will see below:
“Always hollerin’ who she don’t like
And who she kick it with
Who she wanna fight
Who wearin’ a weave
Who Dooney and Bourke bag is fake
Who holdin’ the keys to the car she drove last year
Or who fuckin’ on who
And who need a pap smear
Getting on my nerves
But before your negative energy curve, bitch
I’ma cut you off”
Our narrator is annoyed. He can’t be bothered with the superficial, meaningless trappings that other people his age normally obsess over. Bags, weaves, cars…“trappings”, is the perfect word for all of these frills and accessories. It’s nice to have and enjoy things, but most people today consume materials to the point of distraction. How can you start building with someone if you’re too busy worrying about what they’re wearing or who they’re sleeping with? On top of this, our narrator realizes that his friend is always picking on people, which again, is an indicator of how bitter and unhappy she is with her life. This type of mindset is contagious, and he wants to cut her off before he catches it.
“‘Cause every time you come around you be hollerin’ that
He say/she say
Shut the fuck up!”
This is exactly what gossip sounds like. A bunch of empty words that go right in one ear and out the other. At the end of the day, who really cares?
“I’m tryna learn something new
I’m tryna surround myself with people that inspire me
Or at least inquire similar desires to do what it T-A-K-E just to reach the T-O-P
I’m talking ideas
I’ve always said that if you want to reach the top, surround yourself with people who are already there and study them. Our narrator wants to do just that. Or at least surround himself with people who aspire to be greater, so that he has some positive energy to feed off of.
“It’s more than making enemies, my nigga
Oh that’s not your memo?
Then tell me why you’re constantly stressing on how you well connected like centipedes, my nigga?”
Very clever metaphor here. The movie The Human Centipede is about a disgusting scientist who “connects” people together by sewing them ass-to-mouth-to-ass, creating a human centipede. Our narrator’s friend is constantly “talking shit” about being well “connected” with goons in the streets. This is a very loaded bar that I’m sure went over some people’s heads.
“I function with you and you flaunt your pistol
Every second tell me how you pressed ‘em at the Monte Cristo
Where “so-and-so” from
And what neighbourhoods beefin’
Who baby momma’s a rat
And who got killed last weekend”
Our narrator’s friend is lost; he finds value in all of the wrong things. He is obsessed with street cred and measures his manhood by how many guns he has, how many clubs he’s shot up, and how much he knows about gang life and crime. He is knowledgeable about where his rivals live, who’s snitching and who was the latest person to die by the same guns he carries, but at the end of the day, what does it all really mean? How does this guy benefit? He is on an express route to prison or a grave, yet his thinking is so skewed that he’s actually proud of the path he’s on.
“That shit is mad depressing, bringing me down
Speak on something with some substance that can get us both paid
Rather than telling me how these niggas jockin’ your style
Or his rims ain’t bigger
Pussy nigga! I’m cut you off…”
As our narrator points out, all of the stories about death, war and crime ARE depressing. It’s cute in gangster movies, but in real life there’s nothing honourable about being on the fast track to nowhere. There is no future in a life of crime, so our narrator would rather not discuss it. He also points out how lame it is to worry about what another man is doing. Being obsessed with whose “toys” are bigger is a bitch move, and the narrator calls his friend out for this.
“I’m tryna learn something new
I’m tryna better my chances of becoming a star
I’m tryna feel the vibe of Mona Lisa; studying art
Now paint that picture”
Another cute, but simple analogy. I like how the narrator hints that in order to succeed, you must open your mind to new things and always be open to learning. Consuming and appreciating art in turn makes one a better artist.
“Life behind bars
Remember the very day I got caught?
I murdered a rapper, and you filed the police report?”
Another metaphor. The narrator talks about being jailed for murder; spending “life behind bars”. But he also injects bravado. “Life behind bars”. He spends his life rapping, perfecting and living “behind” his “bars”. He hones his craft until he is so good he could “murder” a rapper, metaphorically speaking. This jail metaphor ties in nicely to the end of the verse:
“See, what I was taught
‘Family is all I need’
But indeed, them too can run me right up a tree
Constantly talkin’ shit ‘bout the next relative
Wanting me to take sides
But I never give in
Ever since grandma died, everyone parted ways
Argue on holidays
Left my uncle in prison for 15 years
No one paid him attention but moms
Yeah, my momma as loyal as any sister would come
Come to my house just to yap about your own people? Dang!
And if your blood wasn’t running through my veins, I would probably cut you off…too.”
Remember that touching scene in the movie Soul Food, where little Ahmad chastises the adults in his family for breaking down over petty arguments? This last verse is basically that scene in rhyme. Kendrick Lamar has talked about his incarcerated Uncle in various songs, so this verse is probably just a recall of actual events. But when I hear it, all I see is little Ahmad, with crocodile tears streaming down his face, fearing for the unity of his family now that the family matriarch has died.
Our narrator talks about how gossip can infect a family, and make people lose sight of how important it is to have a familial bond. He is angry that his family has allowed one of their own to fester in prison, choosing to cut him down and gossip about him, rather than show him some support. Perhaps this relates back to the “life behind bars” line in the beginning. Perhaps he is saying “If I were ever sent to jail, would you be there for me? Or would your mouth be the one to land me in jail in the first place?” Just a thought.
He stresses the importance of remaining loyal to family, and as frustrated as he is with his kin, he can’t get rid of them as easily as he cuts off his wayward friends. His loyalty to his family runs deep! Blood is thicker than water, and the only thing stopping our narrator from cutting off his family is the bloodlines they share.
That was my interpretation of one of my favourite songs from Kendrick Lamar. If you’re still not familiar with this guy’s work, do yourself a favour: check him out and see why he’s been crowned the new King of the West Coast. PS, shout out to Kendrick for hooking up with Microsoft for their new Windows Phone ad campaign. Get that Microsoft money, boy!